AskDefine | Define raffia

Dictionary Definition



1 leaf fibers of the raffia palm tree; used to make baskets and mats etc. [syn: raphia]
2 fiber of a raffia palm used as light cordage and in making hats and baskets
3 feather palm of tropical Africa and Madagascar and Central and South America widely grown for commercial purposes [syn: genus Raffia, Raphia, genus Raphia]

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. A fibrous material used for tying plants, said to come from the leaves of a palm tree of the genus Raphia.

Extensive Definition

The Raffia palms (Raphia) are a genus of twenty species of palms native to tropical regions of Africa, Madagascar, with one species (R. taedigera) also occurring in Central and South America. They grow up to 16 m tall and are remarkable for their compound pinnate leaves, the longest in the plant kingdom; leaves of R. regalis up to 19.81 m long and 3 m wide are known. The plants are either monocarpic, flowering once and then dying after the seeds are mature, or hapaxanthic, with individual stems dying after fruiting but the root system remaining alive and sending up new stems.

Cultivation and uses

Raffia fibres have many uses, especially in the area of textiles and in construction. In their local environments, they are used for ropes, sticks, supporting beams and various roof coverings are made out of its fibrous branches and leaves. The membrane on the underside of each individual frond leaf is taken off to create a long thin fibre which can be dyed and woven as a textile into products ranging from hats to shoes to decorative mats. Plain raffia fibres are exported and used as garden ties or as a "natural" string in many countries.
Raffia palm also provides an important cultural drink. The sap contains sugars. It is traditionally collected by cutting a box in the top of the palm and suspending a large gourd to collect the milky white liquid. Unlike an oil palm tree, this process kills the raffia palm. Both the sap from the raffia and oil palms can be allowed to ferment over a few days. When first collected from the tree it is sweet and appears slightly carbonated. As it ages more sugar is converted. The sap is usually called wine. The raffia wine tends to be sweeter at any age when compared to oil palm wine. Both kinds of palm wine can also be distilled into strong liquors, such as Ogogoro. Traditionally in many cultures, guests and spirits are offered these drinks from the palm tree.
The raffia palm is important in societies such as that of the Province of Bohol in the Philippines, Kuba of Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nso of Cameroon, the Igbo and Ibibio/Annang of southestern Nigeria and the Yoruba of southwestern Nigeria, among several other West African ethnic nations.
raffia in German: Raphia
raffia in French: Raphia
raffia in Portuguese: Raphia
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